WKU fullback Johnson a key component to Rainey’s success

Senior fullback Rod Johnson gets open for a pass Sept. 4 at Nebraska. It was Johnson’s lone reception through three games this season as well as the night where he received his only carry. Johnson is primarily used as a run blocker in WKU’s West Coast offense.

Brad Stephens

Fullbacks such as Rod Johnson were an afterthought in WKU’s spread offense under former coach David Elson.

The position was used so little that Johnson moved to tight end, where he played 10 games in 2009.

But when Willie Taggart installed his West Coast attack after being hired, Johnson was able to move back to his native fullback spot.

“He told me I was going to get the chance to play fullback again, and a chance to play on the field a lot more,” Johnson said.

So far Taggart has been right.

Johnson has been on the field for almost all of the Toppers’ offensive snaps through the first three games. But instead of carrying the ball — he has one rushing attempt in three games — Johnson is lead blocking for the nation’s fifth most prolific rusher, junior running back Bobby Rainey.

Rainey, who never had the luxury of running behind a fullback, was as excited as Johnson with the new offense.

“In high school we would pull a guard a lot to lead block,” Rainey said. “It’s the same way now, except now I have a fullback and a guard so there’s more protection and more holes to open up.”

Of course, “opening up holes” means Johnson is taking on a defender — usually a linebacker on every play in practice and in games.

“My teammates and coaches keep saying ‘You’re the key this year, you need to be on you’re a game for Bobby to bounce off and get through a hole,’” Johnson said.

But that means Johnson takes a shot while Rainey went through untouched. To add, Rainey wears a yellow jersey during contact practices signaling that he’s not to be hit.

“With him wearing the yellow jersey it kind of ticks me off because there’s days where my body’s hurting, and I’m like, ‘Can I get a yellow jersey?’” Johnson said, smiling. “But other than that it’s not so bad.”

Rainey said he appreciates his sacrifices, and that Johnson can take plenty of credit for WKU’s effective running attack.

“In this offense, the fullback is basically considered an offensive lineman,” Rainey said. “They’re lead blocking just like everyone else, and get the same credibility as long as they’re doing their job.”

It’s an explanation Johnson is satisfied. And in the end, it all comes back to the good of the team for the senior.

Johnson said he’s focused only on beating South Florida on Saturday night.

“At the end of the day, it’s all fine and dandy and I’m happy about blocking for (Rainey),” Johnson said. “But I’ll be more happy once we get that first win this season.”